I got back in the truck and drove to the deli.
Jonathan was already there. He stood up when I approached the table, which I took to mean I had an alarming expression on my face.
And say what you want about what he did or didn’t mean to me and what our relationship was or wasn’t at that point, but I basically grabbed onto him with a deathgrip kind of hug and then stood there like that for I have no idea how long. My mind went blank, thought ceased, and I felt… I have no idea what I felt.
That’s not true. I just have to think about it for a while. Okay. Here goes:
What I felt was like my world was crumbling around me, like it was all just painted backdrops and they were peeling away to show the grungy backlot they had been hiding. When I’d been on the phone with Carynne, I’d tamped it down. We’d talked strategy. I’d vented.
But with Jonathan, two things were happening. One was that just seeing him I couldn’t keep up the bullshit bravado. I’m not wired that way. Once I’ve let someone under my skin, they can always get in. They always DO get in, even if they’re not trying. My armor unzips like a Godzilla suit the second I’m with them.
The other thing is that I grabbed on to the one thing I could see that maybe wasn’t crumbling as fast as my career.
I’m sure we stood there way too long. I’m sure people were staring. I didn’t have the brain cells to think about it right then, and Jonathan didn’t have the heart to push me away.
When I came to my senses, I sat down and ordered a pastrami sandwich with cream cheese and cucumber on rye, grilled, and a malted milkshake, even though I wasn’t sure I was going to have the stomach to eat any of it.
I proceeded to give Jonathan pretty much the same story as Carynne, only more quietly, and with fewer interruptions. When I was done I put my head on my arms on the table and stared into the darkness behind my eyelids for a while.
I stayed that way until the food arrived. After a couple of sips of milkshake I discovered I did have the stomach for it after all and I ate. J. didn’t say anything until I was finished, but he looked like he was thinking a lot.
He ordered a piece of chocolate cream pie when the waitress came to take my plate away. Then he spoke. I wondered if he was going to say something soothing, or something that was going to wreck me.
It was neither. He had gone into reporter fact-finding mode.
“Have you talked to Sarah yet?”
“No. The only person I’ve talked to is Carynne. Called her from a pay phone.”
“Do you think Mills would give you the name of the photographer?”
“Doubtful. Mayyyybe Digger would have been able to get it, but I’m not sure I’m speaking to either of them right now.”
“What’s Carynne’s relationship with Mills like?”
“Mills has always been Digger’s job. I’d say Mills has a good impression of her, but that’s about it.”
“Are you sure about the contract?”
“No. Well, I’m pretty sure we didn’t sign something that gangs all our profits into the same bucket, but until I see it, I can’t be sure. He’s right about the option clause, though. We’re pretty much obligated to deliver them another album, but if they won’t pay for it, we don’t have the money to record something ourselves, and even if we do, they can still say it’s not good enough and make us go back to square one. And we can’t go anywhere else.”
“How much of this has something to do with the merger, I wonder,” Jonathan said, taking a bite of pie. “New legal department decides on their take on certain clauses, next thing you know when they want to clean house…? I’ll make some calls tomorrow, find out more during business hours.”
“Okay.” Now I just felt drained. Some gigantic corporation was gobbling up the already huge corporation that owned me. I didn’t even know how to feel about that. “I think this milkshake made my head hurt.”
Jonathan gave me a look like he thought it probably wasn’t the milkshake, but he didn’t have the heart to contradict me. He put his hand on mine instead. I wondered if some bullshit photographer hiding in the bushes outside was photographing it but I didn’t have the heart to pull away. At some point you have to say “stop” to the people who want to force you to be a certain way.
“Let’s go home,” Jonathan said. “We need to be near a phone.”
“Okay.” I had that black cloud voice in my head saying it wouldn’t do any good and why were we even putting any more effort into it because it was a done deal. Usually eating makes that voice go away, so the fact that it didn’t? Well, this was some serious shit.
Jonathan drove, while I sat in the passenger seat with my hands over my eyes. It was starting to sink in, I guess. My career was over…? That motherfucker Mills, had he actually gloated over it or was that my imagination? Money. I was going to have to worry about money. The mortgage on the house. Ziggy paying for his mother’s medical care. How was I going to keep Carynne as a manager if we didn’t have money coming in to pay her, too? We couldn’t tour year round–we barely made it through one summer. In fact, how was I going to keep the band together if we had no record deal? Ziggy could go into acting. Chris didn’t have much incentive to stay…
Jonathan cleared his throat. “I’m sorry.”
I looked at him. “For what?”
“We should have been more careful. I shouldn’t have been…”
“Stop. Stop stop stop.” I gripped my own thighs with my fingers because I needed to hold on to something. “It’s not your fault.”
“But without the photos you could have… played it straight.”
I thought about that. Could I have fixed it all by groveling or telling Mills he was mistaken, J. and I are just friends, and really I have a thing going with Sarah Rogue? It felt to me like the sort of thing you heard in the press all the time. I knew now why.
Could I have done that? Should I have done that? No. Don’t think so. “That wouldn’t have helped. Mills was looking for an excuse to kill the next record. That had to be it. If not this, he would have come up with something else. This isn’t your fault, J.”
Which didn’t mean it wasn’t mine. Wonderland came on the car stereo and I hit the off button so hard I almost broke it. Almost.
At the house, I found the fax machine in a corner of the room Jonathan used for writing. Helpfully there was a phone number written in Sharpie on the front. That meant we had two phones. Jonathan took over the fax handset to make some calls. I went and got on the one in the living room.
I called Remo first. That is, I called his answering service and left a message.
Then I called Charles River Records, whose number I still had memorized, and got their answering machine. “Watt, whenever you get this, it’s Daron. Marks. Moondog.” Yeah, like he wouldn’t remember me. “Just got some shitty news from BNC and I need your advice. Seriously. Here’s the number where I’m staying in LA. I might need to talk to that lawyer you sent me to again, too. I’m pretty sure Carynne has his number but in case she doesn’t, I should get it.”
Then I went and got my notebook and looked through the numbers in it to see if there was anyone else I should call. There were not a lot of numbers in it and most of the ones there weren’t for people who could help with this. Jay. Tread. Fans.
Courtney. Wow. Where was my brain? Of course Courtney needed to know what was going on with me and Digger at the very least. Kicking Dad to the curb was being kind of overshadowed in my mind by the other issues.
I knew I had to call Bart and Christian, too. But I wanted to have a chance to maybe know a little more about the contract and be sure what I was telling them before I got them all upset. I tried Carynne again, got her machine, and told her I was at Remo’s.
Then I had the choice of wait around for people to call me back, or call the house.
I called the house.
When Colin picked up the phone and heard my voice: “Daron! How are you, man?”
“Shitty. Some serious music industry bullshit is going down.”
“I should probably tell Chris before I tell you. No offense, but it’s that kind of stuff.”
“He’s out right now, but I’ll tell him to call you. Um, how’s LA otherwise?”
“Otherwise, I hate the people and the traffic and the smog. But I did a kind of cool gig.” I told him about how I basically pulled a soundtrack out of my ass in three days. “Couldn’t have done it if I didn’t have a studio right here at my fingertips, though. The Mac helped a little, too. Quick and dirty and I got paid.”
“Like a musician temp gig.”
“Yeah. Although, when you think about it, every gig is a temp gig when you’re a musician.”
“This industry bullshit that’s happening must be really bad for you to say that,” Colin said.
Which made me think about what I’d said. “You know, that isn’t how I meant it? But maybe it is. I really didn’t think Moondog Three was going to… Wait a second. You haven’t heard the story yet.”
“Okay, I’ll tell you, but don’t let on to Christian that I didn’t tell him first.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
So I recounted the whole meeting with Mills, including the bit about not giving me a copy of the spreadsheets, and Digger being a wimp, and Mills being a dick, me firing Digger, and how I walked out with the papers and photos in my hand.
“That is fucked up,” Colin said, which was about as validating a thing as he could say. “The world is just not supposed to work that way.”
“At least I’m not blindsiding Carynne with it. I’ve been telling her for years I want her to take over.”
“She can handle it.”
“Assuming there’ll be anything to handle. She keeps telling me she can’t do everything Digger can do. I keep telling her that just means it’s her job to hire someone who can.”
“What can’t she do?”
“I think she can handle the negotiations and ball-busting part of the job just fine. She knows booking and live-show stuff like the back of her hand. But she doesn’t know the recording company side or stuff like taxes.”
Colin started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Carynne needs someone to do the band’s financials?”
“Yeah, why is that funny?”
“Daron. I’m a CPA. Did you forget?”
So then I started laughing. “Yes. Yes, I did forget. Let’s face it, Col’. You don’t look like anybody’s idea of an accountant.”
“I know. I know. But this is who I am. Accountant is not who I am, it’s just what I do. Who cares if your account has blue hair if he gets the numbers right, right? But people judge. I know they do. And I say fuck them but they say fuck you right back. Because I chose to be this way, I chose not to fit their conception of what they think I should be like. And that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I know when I’ve met someone who accepts me for who I am. I did choose to be this way.”
“Your hair is blue now?”
“Uh, yeah. Midnight blue so it actually doesn’t look that different from the black until I go in the sun. Which I try to avoid. But my point is, Daron, I know that’s how the world works, and I choose to do it anyway, and if the world fucks with me, at least I’m ready for that. What kills me is that you’re going through the same stupid ass shit as me, except in an industry that really really really should not care who the fuck you sleep with, and they’re judging you and saying that’s not what they want or expect from you when holy fuck, come on, you’re a rock star and should A) be able to fuck anything that moves, and B) see A).”
“The other possibility is this isn’t casual unconscious homophobia floating around, boss. This could be someone has it in for you and the gay is the excuse.”
“That’s what I told Jonathan. I don’t know what I did to piss Mills off so much, though.”
“This Mills character, is it his fuck-up that led to low sales? Maybe he’s trying to deflect blame off himself onto you.”
I hadn’t thought of that possibility. “I don’t think he has that much to do with sales, personally. But maybe he’s trying to deflect the blame off BNC as a whole. Hm. Especially if they’re getting bought by another company.”
“Hey, your sister’s here, you want to talk to her, too?”
“Yes. Definitely. Thanks, Col’. You’ve given me a lot to think about.” The really ironic thing, of course, was that Colin was in a profession where the way he looked was a problem, but if he had been in mine, no one would have given a flying fuck how many piercings he had or if his hair was Day-Glo green.
“No problem. Call whenever you want to vent. See you in email.”
He handed the phone to Courtney and I heard him say to her as he did, “Big brother has some news.”
“Hey, what’s up?” She sat in a chair; I could hear it scrape on the kitchen floor.
“Will you still love me if I’m broke and fired our father?”
“What the hell kind of question is that? Of course. What did he do this time?”
“Weaseled out of defending me when a record company exec was tearing me a new one. And then blamed me for bringing it on myself.”
“Sounds like Dad. Is this something me and Carynne can fix?”
“Whoa, wait, you and Carynne?”
“Come on, she shouldn’t have to do everything by herself. Is it?”
“No. I don’t think there’s anything we can do. It’s technical, and it involves contracts, and I’m not even sure what the details are going to be, but the main thing is BNC has totally turned on us. I’m thinking we’re looking at lawsuits.”
“That ugly, huh?”
“That ugly. And I swear I’m not being condescending by not explaining more to you, Court’. In fact, back up a second, though. What about you and Carynne? She’s the one who can explain it. But I thought you were going to try to get into Mass Art.”
“I changed my mind. I’m applying to Emerson. They’ve got rolling admissions and an amazing media program. I’m serious. Walk into any radio station, TV station, movie set, you name it, throw a rock and you’ll hit someone from Emerson.”
“And Digger’ll foot the bill?”
“He said he would. Hey, if you’re hard up, I have a great idea. I’ll live here and he’ll have to pay you rent.”
“Court’, I’d rather have less to do with him than more…”
“I know. But just think how much it’ll singe his nut hairs to have to write you a check every month.”
That made me laugh. “I am so glad we’re on the same page about this.”
“Come home soon, will you? I miss you.”
“That’s kind of funny, given that you didn’t even see me for years.”
“Yeah, but on tour I got used to being around you all the time.”
“You know, you don’t have to get some kind of entertainment business degree to spend more time around me…”
“Daron, the world does not revolve around you. I want to do this.”
“Okay, fine, just checking. But are you sure you don’t want to go to art school?”
“I talked to Ziggy about that. I think I agree with him. The problem with art school isn’t the art. It’s all the artists. I’ll still have plenty of chances to be my crazy, creative self, don’t you worry.”
“You’re the only person who thinks it would be a better idea to study art than business.”
“Of course I think that. I’m a musician.”
“When are you coming back?”
“I don’t know. Ziggy’s supposed to get out tomorrow. I’ll figure it out after I know what’s up with him, I guess.”
“Is that the real reason you’re out there?”
“What, my cover story about house sitting for Remo wasn’t good enough?”
“Nooooope. You’re busted.”
“I confess. Carynne thinks I should go get him myself. What do you think?”
“I think Carynne’s usually right.”